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Media Alerts - Davis v. U.S. Sentencing Commission
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May 28, 2013
  Davis v. U.S. Sentencing Commission
Headline: Overruling precedent, D.C. Circuit holds that federal prisoners are not required to pursue claims via habeas where success on the merits of their claims will not necessarily result in release from prison.

Area of Law: Habeas; Federal Courts.

Issue(s) Presented: Whether Davis, a federal prisoner, must bring an equal protection challenge to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines by means of a habeas petition where success on the merits has only a probabilistic effect on his incarceration.

Brief Summary: In 1993, Davis was convicted of drug crimes involving more than 15 kg of powder and crack cocaine and sentenced under the Sentencing Guidelines. At the time he was sentenced, the guidelines treated one gram of crack cocaine as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine. Subsequent to his sentence, in response to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the Sentencing Commission changed the 100-to-1 ratio to 18-to-1 for crimes involving 8.4 kg or less of crack cocaine. Davis brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia seeking a declaration that these amendments violate the Equal Protection Clause inasmuch as they do not reduce the ratio for defendants convicted of crimes involving higher quantities of crack cocaine. The district court dismissed Davis' claim for lack of jurisdiction, holding that "an adequate remedy [was] available by petitioning the sentencing for a writ of habeas corpus." The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. Acknowledging that Razzoli v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 230 F.3d 371 (D.C. Cir. 2000), would dictate another result, the court found that intervening Supreme Court precedent had knocked out three of Razzoli's four underpinnings. The court found that, where shortening of a sentence or release was merely "probabilistic," as opposed to certain, an incarcerated federal plaintiff need not pursue his claim via the habeas mechanism.

Significance (if any): The D.C. Circuit expressly overruled Razzoli v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 230 F.3d 371 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

Extended Summary (if applicable):

Panel (if known): Garland, Griffith, Ginsburg

Argument Date (if known): February 12, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: May 28, 2013

Docket Number: No. 11-5264

Decided: May 28, 2013

Case Alert Author: Tiffany Kelley/Beske

Counsel (if known): Robert S. Silverblatt, Steven H. Goldblatt, Nilam A. Sanghvi, Rita K. Lomio, Roshni J. Patel, and Brian Davis for appellant. Alan Burch, Ronald C. Machen Jr. and R. Craig Lawrence for appellee.

Author of Opinion: Griffith

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Beske/Weistling

    Posted By: Elizabeth Beske @ 05/28/2013 05:47 PM     DC Circuit  

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